An Overview of Private Practice and Law Firm Life

A Guide to Working in A Law Firm

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Three-quarters of the one million-plus licensed attorneys in the nation work in private practice. Lawyers in private practice work in a law firm of two or more attorneys or in a solo practice.

Lawyers employed in a law firm work as partners, who share the firm's profits and risks, and associates - attorneys who have not reached full partnership status. Law firms also employ numerous other legal professionals including legal secretaries, law clerks, IT personnel, litigation support professionals, law firm administrators, marketing personnel, file clerks and legal nurse consultants.

Legal Practice Areas

Solo practitioners often operate as a "jack-of-all-trades," offering legal services in a broad range of practice areas. Legal professionals employed in larger law firms usually specialize in one or two specific areas of law. A few common legal specialties are:

Billing Time

Law firm professionals are charged with the onerous task of tracking every minute of their time in order to bill it to a client. Law firms frequently impose high monthly and yearly billable hour requirements upon partners, associates, and paralegals, making law firm employment among the most demanding legal practice environments.

These tips can help you become a more effective time-keeper and contribute to the firm's bottom line:

Long Hours

Law firms are also notorious for requiring long work hours from its employees in order to raise revenue.

However, while 50 to 80 hour work weeks are common in some law firms, not all firms are sweatshops. Each firm has its own unique culture and work requirements.

Work/Life Balance

In some cases, the time demands placed upon law firm professionals limit their ability to pursue outside interests. A recent survey by the Texas Bar Association found that 18% of respondents would exchange lower compensation for fewer hours, provided that it would not affect their treatment, even if it affected their advancement. For more on work-life balance, see:

Big Firm v. Small Firm

According to the Lawyer Statistical Report, only 14% of attorneys are employed in large law firms of more than 100 lawyers. The large majority of attorneys (63%) and law firm employees work in small offices of ten attorneys or less.

Working in a law firm has its own unique benefits and challenges and significant differences exist between employment in a small firm versus employment in a large firm.

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